Pakistani authorities have readied explosives to potentially divert swollen rivers as they battle ongoing floods that have claimed 450 lives in the region. The Indian government has faced anger at its slow response.
The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said late Thursday that more than 1.8 million people were affected by the raging torrents in Pakistan and India – a figure that included both those stranded at home and those who fled after the floods hit.
The floodwaters were moving downstream through Pakistan’s Punjab province, inundating huge swathes of farmland in the country’s breadbasket and most prosperous areas.
The Pakistani army on Thursday planted explosives in preparation for breaching three strategic dykes to divert waters away from the southern Punjab cities of Muzaffargarh and Multan, a major agricultural center of two million people and the main hub for Pakistan’s important cotton industry.
Similar drastic measures were taken on Wednesday to protect the city of Jhang, further upstream, where 10,000 people were evacuated overnight, according to senior rescue official Rizwan Naseer.
Between 300,000 and 400,000 people remained stranded in Indian-administered Kashmir, where phone lines had been down for days. Food and water supplies were running low, although the floods had begun to recede.
Anger at slow response
In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held an emergency meeting on the disaster after there were reports of victims attacking emergency workers as anger over the slow pace of the rescue effort boiled over.
Angry residents waiting for days to be rescued and for relief materials threw stones at rescue helicopters in several areas of Srinagar, forcing the Air Force to scale back its operations, NDTV news channel reported.
“Unless the flood waters recede completely, and we are able to reach all the submerged areas, we cannot be sure about the exact death toll in these floods,” Zee television channel quoted a local official in Jammu and Kashmir state capital Srinagar as saying.
The armed forces and National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) had rescued more than 96,000 people and operations were continuing, a Defense Ministry release said.